I’ll never host my own crafting show for two reasons: (1) my perkiness only extends to calculus lectures and (2) my crafty work pattern seems to go much like a trainwreck–there are long moments of chugging along smoothly punctuated with catastrophic stupid messes and failures. And so this is why I wrapped my kitchen in plastic drop cloths before starting to dye with indigo a couple of Saturdays ago. Really, it looked like one of Dexter’s “kill rooms.” And it seemed like there’d be no chance for even me to get blue in the wrong places. Yeah, right.


Anyway here’s how it all went. I apologize for the lack of photos of the process. I was working alone and I really didn’t want to smurf my cameras. I did manage to sneak in a shot or two.

Indigo is notoriously finicky. You have to reduce the dyestuff and carefully keep oxygen out of your dyepot. For this first attempt, I used pre-reduced indigo along with soda ash and thiourea dioxide using a recipe from Dharma Trading. It seems like one could get started more quickly using this indigo dye kit. Next time I’ll start with pure indigo and reduce for myself…but that’s for another day.

I ended up mixing two dyepots, one on Saturday and one on Sunday morning because the first one exhausted quickly. My crucial mistakes were using water that was too hot and agitating the dyepot too much, causing the indigo to oxidize in the bucket. You know, I was concerned mid-dyeing because the tell-tale indigo fart aroma was quite mild the whole time. In fact, I knew the second dyepot was going to be a big success because I thought I just might die from the stench.

While the dyepot rested, I soaked various fabrics (Osnaburg, flour sacking, muslin, a print) and some wool in warm water. Most of the fabrics I just dyed as yardage, but some I tied and some I applied resists to. You can see some fabric tied with wood blocks below.


Dip your wet base fibers into the dyepot and it should come out a bright yellowish green. And then hang the piece up to oxidize for a while. The oxygen is what turns the dye into that classic indigo blue. Here’s how it looks on muslin.



Instead of dipping in the dye for longer periods of time to achieve darker tones of blue, you have to oxidize and re-dip to layer color on top of color. Here are the results of dipping different numbers of times.

On Osnaburg:


On flour sacking:

flour sacking

As with all dyes, you can also experiment with different resist techniques to create patterns of dyed and un-dyed areas. I tried two different resists: tying and itajime with acrylic resists.

tie dye


I have long admired the kinds of designs one can produce using these acrylics. You use some big clamps and different shapes, dip-dyeing as usual. I got my resists and clamps from r0ssie.


The resists create quite crisp designs. But I need to practice getting the clamps on right and soaking the fabric in water enough before dyeing. And then I need to get the dye saturated in the layers better.


After dipping and re-dipping, you let the fabrics oxidize a while more and then rinse. Lots of the residual dye comes out in this rinse, but a warm wash with detergent is required to reveal the true color. All of my fabrics were a deep dark blue before rinse-and-wash and I couldn’t have predicted which would be light, medium or dark other than by knowing which had been double- or triple-dipped.

In the end, I wanted the stench of the dyepot out of my house and so I started dyeing random things to exhaust more quickly. The wool was simple and drank up the dye quickly. I double-dipped these.


And I had varying success with dyeing on non-white bases and prints. All of these are single-dipped because I wanted the prints/colors to come through the blue.



indigo crazy

At the end of the day, indigo dyeing is a long, labor-intensive process that would go better if you do it with a partner and do it outdoors to vent the odor. I wore long pants, long sleeves, closed-toe leather shoes, used strong gloves, and wore a respirator to protect myself. And I still ended up with a bit of blue on my face. Luckily I washed it off before any major irritation began. Errant blue spatters in the kitchen cleaned up easily with soap and a sponge. [I discarded the sponge once I finished cleaning in order to avoid cross-contamination of food.]

Next? I got myself a batik kit from Dharma Trading and plan to explore my copy of Color Your Cloth in greater depth.

Have a great week!